Simplexity


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Asia » Japan
October 3rd 2016
Published: September 30th 2017
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Japan can be a funny place - while there are some aspects of life and culture here that are beautiful in their simplicity, there are others that are overly complex. More often than not, things that appear simple at first, end up being overly complex. It's a uniquely Japanese quality, so for the purposes of this discussion, we'll call it Japanese Simplexity! A good example was today's exhausting journey from Takaragawa to Fujikawaguchiko - while the Tokyo Wide Pass covered today's train rides, it involved four separate legs with multiple train companies. There are areas not entirely covered by the pass, involving supplemental costs, so it wasn't readily obvious if our journey was completely included, and online resources weren't all that helpful. It was only clear once we reserved through a station office, with the assistance of the attendant.

Even boarding the train in Japan can be confusing, as the Japanese have a system of painting information and lines on the ground, so that you can line up to board in the most efficient manner possible, without impeding disembarking passengers. It takes a few moments to decipher, but once you do, it all but eliminates the possibility of boarding the wrong train. You'll know exactly where to stand to board car 5 on the train bound for Tokyo, and the door will line up just next to you when the train rolls in. And, from the files of Only in Japan ... even the lineup has a line! On trains without assigned seating, the first line boards, then the second, then the third ... until it's full, and the guy who just missed out becomes first in line for the next departure. Brilliant!

An even better example was a late lunch at Sanrokuen, a restaurant serving up Irori, a unique type of Japanese BBQ. Reading about it in the guide book and not paying too much attention at the time, I thought it would be a yakiniku-type of tabletop BBQ, but it ended up being so much more. We were pleasantly surprised that it was actually a sunken pit of coals, where we sit cross-legged and roast pre-skewered meats and seafood. Fantastically tasty and fun, it can't get any simpler than this, right? Wrong!!! In typical Japanese fashion, there are specific steps and processes for everything, even for grilling foods. Before starting to cook, we received a lengthy tutorial from our
Reminiscent of Guatemala ...Reminiscent of Guatemala ...Reminiscent of Guatemala ...

... strolling around Fujikawaguchiko is a bit like walking around Antigua, but instead of Agua Volcano looming in the background, it's Mt. Fuji.
waiter on the intricacies of this style of cooking. This ain't no savage caveman style of cooking after all, we are in super-civilized Japan!

Let's start with the simple grating design - at first, we thought that we were to place the meats directly on the grating, but then how would it cook evenly? The coals were placed more towards the center, ruling that out as being an efficient method of cooking. So what to do? In typical brilliantly-simple Japanese design, there are multiple bars for a reason - the skewers are slipped in between them, allowing for a stable, hands-free cooking platform. With multiple bars, the angle and elevation of the skewer can also be adjusted, allowing for the higher or lower heat that different foods demand. But the actual cooking methods aren't so simple - take the jelly potato skewer, for instance, which was coated on one side in miso paste, with a single herb leaf placed on top. The seasoned side is not meant to be cooked - only the other side is to be exposed to the fire. Makes sense, after all - the leaf would probably dry up and burn before the potato had even warmed up.

All of the seafood was pre-seasoned, but not the meats and vegetables - they were meant to be eaten with a BBQ sauce, and applied in a particular way. They needed to first be cooked partially, and only then be dipped into the sauce not once, not twice, but three separate times, with further cooking after each dip. Some of this might seem rather comical, but a lot of these elaborate steps in Japan are actually done for a reason, probablyh because they discovered that three dips are the ideal number to obtain perfectly-seasoned and caramelized food. Our final piece of instruction was regarding the scallop - it was to be cooked last, though we're not certain why (maybe because it's the sweetest item, and best eaten at the end?) It was also only to be seasoned with a drop of soy sauce, immediately before serving. Would the world end if we dripped two blobs of soy sauce on the scallop? Possibly, but we didn't want to risk it, so we obeyed the Japanese overlords and only used one small drip!

With two visits to Japan under our belt, we've learned not to question the established order here, because
Mt Fuji's Beauty Cannot Simply Be Enjoyed ...Mt Fuji's Beauty Cannot Simply Be Enjoyed ...Mt Fuji's Beauty Cannot Simply Be Enjoyed ...

... it has to be described and named several ways! When it reflects in the lake, it is Sakasa Fuji; at sunrise or sunset when the sun is just peeking from behind the top, it is Diamond Fuji; when clouds appear like a halo or hat on Fuji, it is called Kasagumo Fuji. Don't even get me started on the differences between Red and Rouge Fuji!
quite frankly, an awesome experience almost always awaits when you go with the flow. So to remind ourselves of this fact, we've come up with a little rhyme:

In Japan, it's easy to experience some perplexity,
When their customs involve such over complexity,

But the solution is to buy into the simplexity,
And your reward will be a belly shaped with convexity!

In other words, when it comes to food, do what the Japanese do, and you'll turn happily fat!



Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


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Tengu Mask ...Tengu Mask ...
Tengu Mask ...

... a creature from Japanese folklore - once having avian features (ie. a bird beak), over time, it became humanized, resulting in a long Pinocchio-like nose. The Japanese are fantastically phallic!
Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...
Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...

... the outline of this umbrella stand was shaped like a flower, with each "petal" designed for insertion of an umbrella tip. So simple and compact, yet it allowed for storage of five to six umbrellas.
Despised Snack ...Despised Snack ...
Despised Snack ...

... one of the truly terrible things we ate last time in Japan were grilled snacks called dango - they looked fantastic, grilled over charcoal and then smothered in a sweet sauce, but they turned out to be no more than doughy blobs of badness. We had no choice but to take a picture like this to mock the dreaded dango.
Impressive Hot Food For a Vending Machine ...Impressive Hot Food For a Vending Machine ...
Impressive Hot Food For a Vending Machine ...

... I think the myth of Japanese vending machines is overblown - sure, they are seemingly everywhere, but typically only drinks are available and not soiled panties, as many people want to believe. I can't imagine much of this being good, but I'm all for the concept of getting fries or noodles out of a machine.
Only in Japan ...Only in Japan ...
Only in Japan ...

... can they turn Mount Fuji into a cute little stuffed doll!
Not Quite As Good ...Not Quite As Good ...
Not Quite As Good ...

... Takaragawa's included breakfast wasn't quite on par with last night'a dinner, though a few things did stand out. The fish was quite decent, as was the miso soup. With such an airy texture, Japanese bread is also nice when toasted, and some more of those awesome giant Concord grapes made for a nice accompaniment.
Natto? ...Natto? ...
Natto? ...

... we think this was natto, a fermented soy bean, and quite the Japanese acquired taste. It's not so much the flavour that is troubling, but the texture - the beans stick together, and when you pull them apart, a sticky residue stretches and dangles between, like moldy mucus. Very visually unappealing, and the sticky, slimy texture immediately sets off an alarm in your head "Warning! Warning! Botulism and horrific stomach cramps are imminent!"
I'd Kill For That Bento Box ...I'd Kill For That Bento Box ...
I'd Kill For That Bento Box ...

... this little old Japanese lady was eating the most amazing bento box on our train - we considered beating her up for it, but the other little old Japanese lady accompanying her looked like she knew how to handle herself in a fight.
Gem of a Restaurant ...Gem of a Restaurant ...
Gem of a Restaurant ...

... Sanrokuen was a top-notch dining experience.
The Before Shot ...The Before Shot ...
The Before Shot ...

... an entire little fish, giant prawn, boar, beef, duck breast, quail, squid, scallop, green onion, supremely-tasty shitaake mushrooms, jelly potato, and an excellent coleslaw-type salad ... it was a pricey late lunch/early dinner, but SO worth it. As far as the meat went, the boar and quail were particularly good, despite both being a little chewy.
Nothing Beats Fire-Grilled Food ....Nothing Beats Fire-Grilled Food ....
Nothing Beats Fire-Grilled Food ....

... the giant prawns were like mini lobsters, but unfortunately, we overcooked them. Still, they were pretty fantastic.
Surprisingly-Tasty Fish ... Surprisingly-Tasty Fish ...
Surprisingly-Tasty Fish ...

... we figured they would be dry, but turned out to be juicy, tender, and delicious, even though they were slightly overcooked. A very subtle but sweet flavor.
Vat of BBQ Sauce ...Vat of BBQ Sauce ...
Vat of BBQ Sauce ...

... if the opening was large enough, I would've dunked my head in this vat of liquid goodness.
More Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...More Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...
More Beautifully-Simple Japanese Design ...

... just as we had finished our food and were pondering ordering some additional meat and seafood skewers, a big steaming bowl of houto appeared, a thick and hearty local noodle that resembled overcooked Italian pasta more than Japanese soup noodle. No need to order more food after this, a serving large enough for four people! More impressive than the houto was the ladle - it was forked on one side for grabbing onto the noodles, with the flip side hollowed out for scooping the soup. Brilliant!
Cheesecake Garden ...Cheesecake Garden ...
Cheesecake Garden ...

... we tried a slice of the domed cheesecake, and their most popular one, the original version. Japanese cheesecake is delightfully airy and light, but is quite plain compared to North American types. It would have been incredible if they had added even a little bit of citrus zest.
More Perfect Cheesecake ...More Perfect Cheesecake ...
More Perfect Cheesecake ...

... as always, Japanese food is so pretty that you almost can't bear to eat it.
Glazed Apple Pie ...Glazed Apple Pie ...
Glazed Apple Pie ...

... looked amazing, but appears to be quite different from the North American style.
Cheesecake Garden ...Cheesecake Garden ...
Cheesecake Garden ...

... unfortunately, we arrived just before closing, so weren't able to enjoy our cheesecake with a nice cup of overpriced Japanese coffee.
Café CUP'S ...Café CUP'S ...
Café CUP'S ...

... not that we needed more food after a huge BBQ meal and cheesecake, but we couldn't turn down this amazing matcha pudding that was much like a panna cotta - there may have been some seasonally-available chestnut in there, as well. The green tea latte was rich and creamy, and the locally-roasted coffee was smooth ... Fujikawaguchiko was a treasure trove of goodies today.
Japanese Wine ...Japanese Wine ...
Japanese Wine ...

... who knew they produced it? We got a half bottle each of white and red, produced from the Koshu grape - they weren't bad, but we enjoyed them far more for the novelty, rather than the taste. It makes you wonder - how long will it take for the Japanese dedication to perfection to produce an excellent vintage? After all, people never thought that the Japanese could make good whiskey, but they now produce some of the finest available in the world.


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